Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 39, No. 5, 754–770, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of mentor preparation and learn more about how formal education can prepare mentors for their role. Therefore, questions were asked about why teachers participate in mentor education and their perceived learning outcome, as well as what parts of the programme they find valuable.
The study was conducted within a mentor education programme at a university in Norway in 2010/11.
The participants were 17 teachers, mostly from upper secondary school, participated in a mentor education programme. The programme educates mentors primarily for upper secondary school. The teachers were a mixture of males and females representing both academic and vocational subjects.
The research instruments were pre-course and post-course questionnaires and focus groups. In so far as this is a new field of research, open-ended questions were chosen for the questionnaires to learn as much as possible.
Students in the mentor education programme seem to be intrinsically motivated, given that they enrolled in the programme without any benefit except from their own satisfaction. Moreover, the mentor students agreed that mentor education should be required to practise as a qualified mentor. In addition, experience as teachers and being suitable for the role is needed, a view supported in the literature.
The findings show that the mentor students in the programme moved from a practical towards a more conceptual understanding of mentoring.
Through the programme they seemed to develop as professional mentors with a defined practical and a theoretical knowledge base. Furthermore, the programme provided them with concepts that made it possible to talk about mentoring. With the new knowledge base, mentoring emerges as something different from teaching, and as a profession within the profession.
However, at first the students focused on themselves as mentors and how they should act. They wanted to become good mentors with a suitable personality and good attitudes. During the programme their focus changed from themselves and what to do to focus on the other and facilitating others’ developments. During the programme they became more confident in their roles as mentors. The main challenge in the end was time, a finding that challenges the Norwegian solution that mentoring should happen within existing frames. The programme offers, as intended, a space for reflection and a workshop for trying out different mentoring skills, although not in real-life situations with student- teachers or new teachers as mentees.
The practical part of the programme could be strengthened and assessed if mentoring were to be perceived as a profession. In the current programme it is only the students’ written work that is assessed. The participants’ initial intentions were to work hard. In reality they did what they had to do, such as delivering written papers and participating in the meetings. They were satisfied, however, with their own contribution in the full-day meetings. It was the interplay between the participants and between input and processing, between theory and practice, that seemed to enhance the learning outcome.
From this study, experiences and know-how turned out to be necessary but not sufficient to perform as a professional mentor. In the process of professionalising the mentor role, the theoretical perspective became an important basis. The programme offered concepts and new perspectives. From the mentor students’ perspective, school leaders’ engagement is required.
To enhance the learning outcome in mentor education and to connect practice and theory, the meetings seem to be crucial, to have a full day with a distance to the daily work. The importance of the meetings in the programme implies that the programme needs to be organised in ways that support participation, cooperation and networking.
Furthermore, to strengthen the learning outcome mentor students should be given reasonable working conditions to make it possible to invest effort into the programme and to read theory. As it was, the course demanded more than the students could give, which was probably a reason why many left.
Some challenges also emerged from the data. An obvious one was that one-third of the participants left the course. It is necessary to investigate how the programme should be organised to be relevant for a broad group of teachers and for the schools they work in. Mentor education is in its beginning phase in Norway, and research on mentor preparation is lacking in the literature. This is the reason we wanted to address the issue and thereby contribute to the field.